Why NaNoWriMo? Some Thoughts On Stories

I gave a presentation on NaNoWriMo at my library this past weekend and one of the questions I was asked by one of the attendees who hadn’t done NaNo before was why I thought it was worth doing. It’s a reasonable question, after all. Why undertake the mentally exhausting challenge of writing furiously for thirty days, especially when it’s very likely that much or perhaps even all of the words that you write will end up being complete junk?

There are a lot of possible answers I could have given; because it’s fun even though it’s hard. Because it’s the one time during the year that writing is a group activity and you can tell people about your novel without being the pretentious ‘oh-let-me-tell-you-about-my-novel guy.’ Because it’s good to allow yourself to be creative.

But here’s the answer I settled on and the one that I truly believe (although when I gave this answer during my presentation, I used considerably less profanity).

It’s a common saying within writing circles that everyone has at least one novel in them. Consequently, it’s popular to retort and say, no, everyone does not have a novel in them in a rather curmudgeonly, get-off-my-lawn-you-damn-kids sort of cane shaking. For the record, that post just happened to be the first one that I pulled up on Google; I don’t actually know if Tim Clare shakes a cane at kids on his lawn. I’m sure he’s actually a great guy and probably really nice.

Regardless, it’s trendy to be cynical and one of the best way to be cynical is to crush the idealism of others by telling them “no, the world doesn’t really need to hear your story. Your story probably sucks.” Even if Tim Clare isn’t saying that, many, many other people are. They want you to know that your story sucks. It’s bad and you should feel bad.

So here’s why I think NaNo is worth doing, no matter what you do with your story after it’s over.

NaNoWriMo is worth doing because it’s a month-long exercise in saying “fuck you” to the cynics.

A lot of people call it the “inner editor” or the “inner critic” or the “inner perfectionist.” You know what I’m talking about if you’re ever tried to create something, ever: it’s that little voice that tells you what you’re doing isn’t good enough or that you’re doing it wrong or that you really don’t have anything worth saying.”

I have a different name for that little guy. It’s my “dark voice.” It’s the voice that arrived in my brain sometime around middle school or early high school, right around the time that I left childhood behind and entered a world that was very eager to tell me how much I sucked, how much of a dork I was, how awkward I looked, and just how bad I was at life in general. The dark voice is always there and it’s always happy to remind me about all the things I fucking suck at in life. Writing. My job. Being a friend. Keeping my house clean. Doing yard work. Budgeting. Calling my parents. Exercising every day. Updating my blog. Blogging in general, actually.

Sometimes, people who sound a lot like my dark voice write posts about how there are too many novels in the world and really, your story sucks and you should just keep it to your own damn self.

Well, fuck those people. Fuck the dark voice.

Telling stories is what makes us human. Every single human who has ever lived or will ever live has at least one story to tell. It doesn’t matter if that story will ever be published. Being published is not the quality-meter that says “your story is worthwhile and has justified its existence.” Don’t get me wrong, being published is great, especially if you want to tell stories and get paid for it (which I really, really do).

But that has nothing to do with telling or creating stories. Creating stories is something we do and have always done as a species because it helps us figure things out. It helps us understand ourselves and the world around us. It helps us grow. Telling stories helps us be better humans.

So write your story. Write it because it’s helping you be a better you. And whether that story is 500 words long or 50,000 or 500,000, whether it takes you 30 days or 30 years, write it because every story has value. Every story deserves to exist.

Stories make us better. All stories do. The world needs more of them. The world needs every story it can possibly get.

And that includes yours. So go fucking write it.

Thoughts On Cynicism And Idealism

There’s a lot of reasons that this blog could dive headfirst into the “cynical” half of its title and never resurface. There’s the whole “spying on American citizens” thing. There’s the VRA thing. The looming student loan thing. I could go on, but that would merely be unnecessary padding. We all know things suck.

Except that, for today at least, there were a few things in our country that didn’t suck. DOMA is gone. There was Wendy Davis’s epic filibuster in Texas. These are lights in a dark time. These are moments that rekindle that flame of idealism and keep things firmly in balance.

That’s not to say that tomorrow won’t suck; conservatives in Texas are already mustering for round two of the fight. Even the DOMA victory isn’t complete: a complete victory would not have allowed for states to continue to define marriage. A complete victory would be equal rights for citizens of all sexual orientations NOW, end of discussion, if you don’t like it, too fucking bad. That’s still the end goal. You shouldn’t have to go to a specific state to be allowed a right like marriage.

On the other hand, we should be invigorated that something is happening. A woman’s right to make decisions about her body wasn’t abruptly gutted in Texas. Our same-sex marriage seeking friends and family members are one step closer to equality. Most importantly, the message is very different now than it was ten years ago. Ten years ago, we didn’t have a light in the darkness. Ten years ago, we didn’t have much of a reason to be hopeful about anything.

Ten years ago, those fighting for equal marriage rights were doing so largely alone. Allies were few and the general atmosphere was either “don’t talk about it, don’t think about it, pretend it doesn’t exist” or worse “God hates you, you’re an aberrant mutant, stop existing.” We’ve come a long way from that. Granted, we’re still on the road, and no amount of progress will ever make up for the abominable way we’ve treated our fellow men and women just for being themselves. Nothing will ever erase those mistakes we’ve made as a country or recover the lives of those who were destroyed because of prejudice and isolation. We can’t take those things back, no matter how much we wish we could.

All we can do is work to make sure that the damage that’s been done is stopped. All we can do is stand together against prejudice and bigotry. All we can do is prove that, no matter how flawed we are as a species, we are capable of learning from our mistakes and that we’ll never stop trying to make tomorrow better.

And that’s why I think this blog is still worthy of the second half of its name.